NASA’s Tiny Little Origami Robot Could Be Key to Exploring Alien Worlds


When NASA builds a scientific marvel like its Mars rovers, we can’t help but personify them a little bit. How can you not admire Curiosity doing such a good, brave job exploring the red planet so far away from home? Their newest robot, which can fold, Origami-like, down to the size of a phone, is even easier to squee over — but it’s also designed to explore distant worlds in ways that have never been possible before.

The rover is called PUFFER, which stands for Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robots, and it looks like a lil big-wheel RC mouse. It’s designed to take advantage of its small stature, light weight, and comparatively lower cost by venturing off from a larger parent rover to venture off and explore crevasses on rocky planets like Mars or the craggy, icy surface of Europa. PUFFER turns on a dime and squishes itself down to navigate tight spaces, all while using a small but powerful folded optic microscope to observe its surroundings.

PUFFER can, as shown in new videos NASA shared over the weekend, scale 45 degree inclines and survive a 3-meter fall under simulated Martian gravity, but it’s going to be a while before PUFFER hits some extraterrestrial slopes. The rover is part of an 18-month-long collaborative project between NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, UC Berkeley, and the Distant Focus Corporation in Champaign, Illinois.

NASA plans on testing PUFFER in California’s Mojave Desert — a pretty good stand-in for the red planet — later this year.

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